Lesson: Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32
1 The word of the LORD came to me: 2 What do you mean by repeating this proverb concerning the land of Israel, “The parents have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge”? 3 As I live, says the LORD God, this proverb shall no more be used by you in Israel. 4 Know that all lives are mine; the life of the parent as well as the life of the child is mine: it is only the person who sins that shall die.
25 Yet you say, “The way of the LORD is unfair.” Hear now, O house of Israel: Is my way unfair? Is it not your ways that are unfair? 26 When the righteous turn away from their righteousness and commit iniquity, they shall die for it; for the iniquity that they have committed they shall die. 27 Again, when the wicked turn away from the wickedness they have committed and do what is lawful and right, they shall save their life. 28 Because they considered and turned away from all the transgressions that they had committed, they shall surely live; they shall not die. 29 Yet the house of Israel says, “The way of the LORD is unfair.” O house of Israel, are my ways unfair? Is it not your ways that are unfair?
30 Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, all of you according to your ways, says the LORD God. Repent and turn from all your transgressions; otherwise iniquity will be your ruin. 31 Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed against me and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel? 32 For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, says the LORD God. Turn, then, and live.
Ezekiel (whose name means “God strengthens”) is one of the three “Major” Prophets – so called because of the length of the books of Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel. Ezekiel was a priest who was among the first group of persons deported by the Babylonians when they captured Jerusalem in 597 BCE.
In today’s reading, YHWH was presented as rejecting the idea that a prior generation’s wrongs are borne by later generations (v.3). This is at variance with other portions of the Hebrew Bible in which the sins of the parents are visited upon the children to the third and fourth generation (Ex. 34:7) or to the next generation (1 Kings 21:29).
For Ezekiel, the fall of Jerusalem and fall of the House of David in 586 BCE was seen as resulting from the actions of the kings who reigned after the death of Josiah in 609 BCE during the years prior to the Exile.
A major emphasis in the Book of Ezekiel was on personal moral responsibility rather than seeing acts of prior generations as the cause of current situations. This was a new development in the theology of Ancient Israel. As a corollary to this, Ezekiel said that because the community in Exile was responsible for its own plight, repentance by that community was the way to a restored life (vv.27-32).
Epistle: Philippians 2:1-13
1 If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, 2 make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited,
7 but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form,
8 he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death — even death on a cross.
9 Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
12 Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; 13 for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
Philippi was a major city in Macedonia on the Roman road to Byzantium (Istanbul). Most of its inhabitants were Roman citizens. Paul had deep affection for the Jesus Followers in Philippi and thanked them for gifts sent to him in prison (4:18). Paul wrote this letter from prison, but it is not clear if he was in Rome, Caesarea, or Ephesus.
The last part of today’s reading is derived from a hymn that was already in use in Jesus Follower communities, perhaps in a Baptism liturgy. Its statements are not only religious, they are also political. The Roman Caesars claimed to be “in the form of God” and (as rulers) to be the “Lord.”
This hymn affirms the Jesus as The Christ was both divine and human. Instead of exploiting his being “in the form of God” (v.6), — that is sharing the essence and nature of God — Jesus also had the form of (the essence or nature of) a human/slave/servant (v.7) and emptied himself (poured himself out) for others. For this, he has been highly exalted (resurrected) by God (v.9).
As the Christ/Messiah, he is also “Lord” and Paul asserted that at the name of Jesus (rather than at Caesar’s name) every knee should bend.
Gospel: Matthew 21:23-32
When Jesus entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” Jesus said to them, “I will also ask you one question; if you tell me the answer, then I will also tell you by what authority I do these things. Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?” And they argued with one another, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘Of human origin,’ we are afraid of the crowd; for all regard John as a prophet.” So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And he said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things. “What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ He answered, ‘I will not’; but later he changed his mind and went. The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, ‘I go, sir’; but he did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him.